Statement by the President: Signing of "American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act" (10/17/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

                                                                ______
For Immediate Release                                 October 17, 2000


                        STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT


   I am pleased today to sign into law S. 2045, the "American
Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act," and H.R. 5362, an Act to
increase the fees charged to employers who petition to employ H-1B
non-immigrant workers.  Together, these laws increase the number of H-1B
visas available to bring in highly skilled foreign temporary workers and
double the fee charged to employers using the program to provide critical
funding for training U.S. workers and students.  The Acts recognize the
importance of allowing additional skilled workers into the United States to
work in the short-run, while supporting longer-term efforts to prepare
American workers for the jobs of the new economy.

   At the core of my economic strategy has been the belief that fiscal
discipline and freeing up capital for private sector investment must be
accompanied by a commitment to invest in human capital.  The growing demand
for workers with high-tech skills is a dramatic illustration of the need to
"put people first" and increase our investments in education and training.
Today, many companies are reporting that their number one constraint on
growth is the inability to hire workers with the necessary skills.  In
today's knowledge-based economy, what you earn depends on what you learn.
Jobs in the information technology sector, for example, pay 85 percent more
than the private sector average.

   My Administration has made clear that any increase in H-1B visas should
be temporary and limited in number, that the fee charged to employers using
the program should be increased significantly, and that the majority of the
funds generated by the fee must go to the Department of Labor to fund
training for U.S. workers seeking the necessary skills for these jobs.
This legislation does those things.  But the need to educate and train
workers for these high-skilled jobs goes beyond what has been addressed
here.

   I want to challenge the high-tech companies to redouble their efforts to
find long-term solutions to the rapidly growing demand for workers with
technical skills.  This will require doing more to improve K-12 science and
math education, upgrading the skills of our existing workforce, and
recruiting from under-represented groups such as older workers, minorities,
women, persons with disabilities, and residents of rural areas.  Many
companies have important initiatives in these areas, but we clearly need to
be doing more.

   This legislation contains a number of provisions that merit concern.
For example, one provision allows an H-1B visa holder to work for an
employer who has not yet been approved for participation in the H-1B
program.  In addition, there are provisions that could have the unintended
consequence of allowing an H-1B visa holder who is applying for a permanent
visa to remain in H-1B status well beyond the current 6-year limit.  I am
concerned that these provisions could weaken existing protections that
ensure that the H1-B program does not undercut the wages and working
conditions of U.S. workers, and could also increase the vulnerability of
H--1B workers to any unscrupulous employers using the program.  For
example, one of the key requirements of the H-1B program is that the
foreign worker is paid the same wage as U.S. workers doing the same job.
This legislation, however, by allowing H-1B workers to change employers
before a new employer's application has been approved, could result in an
employer -- knowingly or unknowingly -- not paying the prevailing wage.
For these reasons, I am directing the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, in consultation with the Department of State and the Department of
Labor, to closely monitor the impact of these provisions to determine
whether the next congress should revisit these changes made to the H-1B
program.

   I had hoped that the Congress would take this opportunity to address
important issues of fairness affecting many immigrants already in this
country.  We need to meet the needs of the high-tech industry by raising
the number of visas for temporary high-tech workers.  But we also must
ensure fairness for immigrants who have been in this country for years,
working hard and paying taxes.  The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act
(LIFA) will allow people who have lived here for 15 years or more -- and
who have established families and strong ties to their communities -- to
become permanent residents.  It will also amend the Nicaraguan Adjustment
and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) to extend the same protections
currently offered to people from Cuba and Nicaragua to immigrants from
Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, and Liberia who fled to this
country to escape serious hardship.  Finally, it will allow families to
stay together while their applications for permanent resident status are
being processed.  These fundamental fairness provisions have been embraced
by humanitarian groups, business groups, and Members of the Congress from
both sides of the aisle.  I will continue to insist strongly on passage of
the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act this year, before the Congress
adjourns.




                            WILLIAM J. CLINTON




THE WHITE HOUSE,
    October 17, 2000.





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